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Oklahoma Sooners use beacons, sensors to find rooms on massive campus

Matt Hamblen | Dec. 3, 2015
Beacon technology still in early-adopter stage, analysts report.

One focus of the four-building deployment has been on the library's collection of original manuscripts by Galileo from the 1500s. Smartphone users can follow a blue dot indoors or a green dot outdoors to find related Galileo exhibits.

"It's a very big campus, so following the route down to one of the buildings on the smartphone makes it more convenient," Cook said.

Some day, the system could be sophisticated enough to help users find specific books or collections.

So far, there are about 50 Aruba BLE beacons in use on campus, all of them battery powered. The newest innovation is six Aruba sensors that operate with power from wall sockets and track the status of the 50 beacons, telling an Aruba Meridian server via Wi-Fi if a beacon is active or not. Cook said that as the system expands potentially to hundreds of beacons, it's important to have sensors to monitor the beacons so that a staffer doesn't have to wander the hallways to do the same work.

Aruba's BLE beacons at OU work in a wireless network configuration that's typical for the industry, Aruba explained. Beacons are simple devices that ping or chirp either to sensors, to register their status, or to a person's smartphone via Bluetooth Low Energy. The beacons themselves don't connect to the central server. When a person's smartphone with its BLE radio receiver picks up the beacon's chirp, a smartphone app that is configured to receive those particular beacons is notified. Then, the smartphone and its custom app connect via Wi-Fi (or cellular, if available) to Aruba's Meridian servers; the server then tells the app to perform certain tasks, such as launching a predetermined map. The server also offers other centralized data, which could be about Galileo's life, for instance, or other information.

The user's phone knows its location on a map in relation to each beacon, but that's possible only by virtue of the Wi-Fi or cellular connection made by the smartphone to the server. "The beacons actually do very little," Cook explained.

Aruba Beacon Analytics software helps Cook gain useful user data, like how many unique visitors have used the beacon network. That kind of information can be used to help figure out where to place future beacons and how the network should grow.

Problems connecting with Android smartphones

So far, the beacon and sensor network has performed pretty well, Cook said, although there has been difficulty tracking Android smartphone users.

"It's been hit-or-miss because the Android experience has been tricky," he said. "Every Android user has a different piece of hardware, so you don't always get clean tracking." That means Android users may not see themselves on a map with a dot. iPhone users haven't experienced the problem.


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